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Review of American War Machine by Peter Dale Scott

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by Kevin Ryan
Published on his blog at

Having read a few of Peter Dale Scott’s earlier books, I was looking forward to his new work, American War Machine. I was not disappointed. Published by Roman & Littlefield in late 2010, this book examines a wide-ranging number of covert US operations since World War II, and, among other things, demonstrates that many of these operations were intimately connected with, and dependent on, illicit drug trafficking. Although my background and experience do not qualify me to write an authoritative review of this important book, I hope that my impressions will compel others to read it.

Scott previously defined concepts such as deep events, deep politics and the deep state, to refer to covert mechanisms that facilitate the strategies of the politically minded rich, a group otherwise referred to as the overworld. Deep events, which Scott defines as those which are “systematically ignored or falsified in the mainstream media and public consciousness,” can be seen as sharing certain features, such as cover-up of evidence and irresoluble controversy over what happened. These features contribute to a suppressed memory of the event among the general public. Deep events are often associated with illegally sanctioned violence, and involve little known, but historically evident, cooperation between leaders of the state and organized crime.

In American War Machine, Scott sets out to write the first “deep history” of such events, politics and state entities. As he writes: “In my experience, deep events are better understood collectively than in isolation. When looked at together, they constitute a large pattern, that of deep history.”

Some of the more well known deep events are briefly reviewed, such as the JFK assassination and Tonkin Gulf incident, as well as the plans known as Operation Northwoods. Scott also makes clear that he now sees 9/11 as not only a deep event, but a “constitutional deep event” in that the implementation of continuity of government (COG) plans, as a result of 9/11, means that the US constitution has been circumvented in favor of what former assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith, called the “Terror Presidency.” The latter office has been exploited by an influential power group, among whose major operatives are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, to pursue long-standing goals of US global domination at the expense of citizen protections as has been done with warrantless surveillance, warrantless detention and suspension of habeas corpus.

One great value of Scott’s writing is that, as with the “deep” terms, he provides us with a wealth of new intelligent language that allows people to discuss matters that otherwise either leave too much to uncertainty or, alternatively, generate confusing and unsupported assumptions. With phrases like “global dominance machine” and the “global drug connection” we can better attribute acts and plans to an influential and interconnected transnational organization that is not yet fully defined, while at the same time not oversimplifying by implying that the US government is always to blame. On the other hand, the “war machine” is a US-based construct that has been used to enforce those acts and plans, and therefore the term war machine helps take us a step closer to seeing how the US government relates to the global dominance machine.

Another great value of the book is the tremendous historical perspective provided for the origins and changing patterns of the global drug connection. Scott begins this history lesson by examining the certain characters involved in the World War II era intelligence agency called the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the birth of the National Security Council and the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC).

The book describes how leaders of the wartime OSS, including William Donovan and Allen Dulles, lobbied for the creation of the CIA through the National Security Act of 1947. At the same time, however, they created private alternatives for covert operations that would operate outside of government control, such as the World Commerce Corporation (WCC).

As CIA executive director, Buzzy Krongard, would later say — “the whole OSS was really nothing but Wall Street bankers and lawyers.” Scott confirms this by writing that, when the CIA was created, it was dominated by “aristocratic elements of the New York overworld.” Despite this fact, and despite the creation of privately controlled CIA-like alternatives, a secret government funded organization was authorized by the National Security Council a year later. This was the OPC, led by Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner, a State Department official who wielded unprecedented power due to his position in New York law and financial circles.

What American War Machine covers most well are the operations that the OPC and CIA engaged in that contributed to the establishment and growth of drug trafficking and terrorism throughout the world. Scott writes: “After World War II, the United States, along with Britain and France, recurrently used both drug networks and terrorist groups as assets or proxies in the Cold War.”

The book begins this discussion in Mexico, where a global drug connection consisting of major organized crime figures and US covert operatives worked together to give birth to a national narcosystem that competed for control of the entire country for many years. The Mexican drug problem was pre-existing, and Scott describes how it grew as a result of a reduction in Chinese opium production in the 1930s. In the late 1940s, however, the Mexican Federal Security Directorate (DFS), which was “setup with FBI assistance” and “partly managed and protected by its sister organization, the CIA,” developed an “institutional relationship with drug traffickers [who] supplied recruits for off-the-books governmental violence.”

The DFS became a protector of the drug traffickers and “both in turn were protected by elements in the CIA.” The Mexican drug traffic, which was a primary factor in the introduction of drugs to the US and Canada, was also dominated by major figures in international organized crime, such as Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and “Lucky” Luciano. It was also controlled by the OPC Mexico station chief, E. Howard Hunt, who later was convicted in the Watergate scandal.

In the early 1950s, Operation Paper was a US initiative to supply arms and materiel to the opium-trafficking Kuotmintang (KMT) in Burma, for the purpose of invading the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. Hunt and Lansky both had pre-war KMT connections (as did OSS chief Donovan) and were apparently instrumental in developing the flow of Chinese opium to Mexico via the KMT. Hunt had been an OSS agent under Paul Helliwell in Kunming, which was “a station that had made payments to its agents in opium.”

Helliwell is an important figure in the context of American War Machine. He coordinated the purchase of General Claire Chennault’s Civil Air Transport (CAT), an offshoot of the wartime “Flying Tigers” that later was modified for transport of drugs through Taiwan. CAT is the predecessor of Air America, the air corps that the CIA utilized for drug-running out of Southeast Asia.

Paul Helliwell also incorporated a CIA-proprietary firm called Sea Supply, Inc. which funneled funds to OPC agents, including Bangkok-based Willis Bird, and supplied covert operatives in Thailand. Through such mechanisms, and at a time when Chinese opium production was vanishing, “US covert support for the Thai and KMT drug traffickers converted Southeast Asia, for more than two decades, into the world’s major source of opium and heroin.

In 1953, OSS chief Donovan was named ambassador to Thailand, with additional powers as “Personal Representative of the President.” Donovan’s power in the region allowed for the OPC and the players who formed WCC to dominate the international drug trade under the guise of fighting the spread of communism. Thai organizations like the Thai Border Police (BPP) and the Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit (PARU) were developed into off-the-books paramilitary resources for US dominance in Southeast Asia and were paid in part through the drug trade and also through CIA funding.

Although Scott takes pains to recognize that some of these maneuvers might have actually stabilized the region (e.g. BPP activities), he also emphasizes how important these activities were to long-term US foreign policy. He writes that, overall, this was how a bureaucratic cabal used Thailand as a base to, over a decade, “induce US military engagement in Southeast Asia in advance of presidential authority or even knowledge. By 1965, if not earlier, this engagement had produced the Vietnam War.”

The book moves on to Laos, where in the early 1960s the CIA attempted to polarize the communist and anti-communist factions of the nation using the cross-border forces of PARU. CIA-controlled KMT forces from Burma joined in this effort. Scott describes how US intelligence agency leaders simultaneously manipulated President Eisenhower, and shows that long-term war in Laos and Vietnam was initiated without approval from the US government and was driven primarily by overworld concerns.

The Golden Triangle encompassing Burma, Thailand and Laos, was for many years the largest opium producing region in the world. Scott writes about how CIA-supported drug proxies and the de-facto protection they conferred on the opium trade in this and similar drug producing regions (e.g. the Golden Crescent) is “clearly a major historical factor for the world crime scourge today.”

The de-facto protection conferred upon drug traffickers by the CIA included protection of some of the dominant figures in organized crime, who were in some cases also involved in high-level CIA paramilitary operations. Theodore Shackley, the CIA station chief in Miami who was responsible for the failed operations aimed at overthrowing Castro in the early 1960s, became CIA station chief in Laos in 1966. Scott writes about mobster John Roselli’s ties to Shackley operations, and provides evidence that Santo Trafficante, the biggest rival of Meyer Lansky, might have also been working with Shackley representatives in Laos.

The 1971 declaration of a “war on drugs” by President Nixon resulted in the targeting of Turkey as an opium source but, in effect, also resulted in the growth of the opium production in Southeast Asia. The Golden Triangle continued to lead in opium production until US interests moved from that region to Afghanistan. Deep state activities continued to play a major role in the transition of drug production from one region to another.

Chapter 7 of American War Machine is perhaps the most interesting, as it describes the global drug connection and its ties to a “shadow CIA,” which has functioned as a tool for international overworld interests including those referred to as the Safari Club. OPC officer Paul Helliwell figures prominently in this chapter, in part for his role in creating the CIA-related Castle Bank, which laundered money and helped finance off-the-books operations, and for his ties to organized crime. Castle Bank’s connections to the overworld are discussed as are its links to OSS agent C.V. Starr, whose insurance empire evolved into the company we know as AIG. This chapter also introduces Adnan Khashoggi, who appears throughout the deep history of US foreign policy and played a major role in the activities of Castle Bank’s successor, the Bank of Credit and Commercial International (BCCI).

Scott writes about some of the deep events in which these players converge. He states that — “BCCI provided the initial infrastructure for the CIA intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 and the ensuing alliance with the major drug trafficker Gulbeddin Hekmatyar.” Additionally, “Shackley, Khashoggi, and BCCI were instrumental in inaugurating the illegal Iran-Contra connection of 1985-1986.”

The book makes some interesting references to an OPC successor organization created by the Pentagon and run by Shackley’s OPC colleague and Operation Paper overseer, Richard Stillwell, called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Scott notes that the JSOC was created in 1980 and by 1981 was, according to Joseph Trento, “one of the most secret operations of the US government.” This reader was led to consider that the JSOC might be controlled in part by the shadow CIA, as are other military and intelligence organizations such as Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

A description of the war machine in chapter 8 includes the role played by private armies and private intelligence companies. Firms such as Blackwater and Science Applications International (SAIC) are briefly discussed but the focus turns to lesser known companies including Diligence LLC and Far West Ltd.

Chapter 9 reviews the implications of the 9/11 events in light of other deep events, without going into detail about what happened on 9/11 or who might have been responsible. Scott does, however, state that — “Without understanding the details, we can safely conclude that operations of the CIA were somehow implicated, whether innocently or conspiratorially, in the background of both the JFK assassination and 9/11.” It is worthwhile to consider Scott’s perspective that “9/11 is not wholly without precedent in US history. It should be seen not as a unique departure from orderly constitutional government — a coup d’etat — but as yet another deep event of the sort that has continued to erode the American constitutional system of open politics and liberties.”

The book concludes by discussing the role of the US under Obama in Afghanistan, and the fact that Afghanistan has become the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin. Intriguing remarks about BCCI, Pakistan’s ISI, and US connections to a “global terrorist” named Dawood Ibrahim, make the final chapter interesting reading.

Overall, American War Machine is a remarkable collection of interwoven facts and concepts that provides an understandable framework for our previously unexplained deep history. As a 9/11 researcher, I found it to be an invaluable resource for my own education and for consideration of future work. As a citizen I can say it is a tremendous achievement that will, for many years to come, be useful to members of any free society that wish to remain free. Everyone should read this book.

Editor’s note: More reviews and purchasing information can be found at or